I attended an LGBTQIA safe space training on behalf of BCPL a few weeks ago, and at one point a woman raised her hand from the front of the room. “You told us earlier that calling someone ‘queer’ is hate speech,” she pointed out. “But it’s right there in the acronym. So why is that okay?” The presenter paused. “Honestly?” she said. “It’s inclusivity versus exclusivity. There’s a big difference between someone reclaiming a hateful word from a place of power and someone calling someone ‘queer’ from a place of ignorance.” I lead with this because I want you to understand all the different types of ‘power’ at work in Laura Jane Grace’s new memoir, Tranny: Confessions of Punk Rock’s Most Infamous Anarchist Sellout — co-written by Dan Ozzi — because there are many.
The word ‘tranny’ is one that Grace returns to over and over again throughout the book. “I don’t want to wait until all of my youth is gone,” she writes at one point, struggling with her decision to transition from male to female. “I don’t want to end up a sad, old tranny.” That word, tranny, has its roots in hate, as something sneered at transgender individuals for decades, but most often directed with vitriol at birth-assigned men wearing women’s clothing. Like so many other words whose origins are founded in hate speech, it was reclaimed by the very community it was designed to hurt, but because of the common target, the word came to carry a very specific connotation. So when the author refers to herself as a tranny in the book, it’s important to understand that she isn’t saying she wants to be a man wearing women’s clothing — she wants to be a woman. That disconnect between a person’s identity and their biology is what’s referred to as “gender dysphoria,” and it occupies the heart of Laura Jane Grace’s story.
And it’s a hell of a story. Laura Jane Grace shifts seamlessly between the raw, untempered emotion of personal journal entries and the calmer, more methodical reflection of a memoir. More than anything else, Tranny showcases how dysphoria and dysfunction often go hand in hand, one informing the other and often feeding into each other. In an effort to feel normal and escape this ever-present notion of “her,” Grace documents her descent into hard drugs, alcoholism and (maybe worst of all) corporate punk, only to emerge triumphant in the third act and then...stop. Tranny is a unique memoir insomuch that it doesn’t end on a blindingly positive note that leaves the reader with the sense that they all lived happily ever after. Laura Jane Grace doesn’t “win,” not really. What she does do is close the chapter on an achingly and viscerally painful period in her life and begin a new chapter that’s arguably just as painful and hard, but also wholly worthwhile and finally true to who she is. Tom Gabel dies, but maybe that’s what he wanted all along. It sure seems that way.
If you love a good heart-wrenching biography, the not-so-secret politics of the music industry and/or especially self-aware sellouts, Tranny is the book you’ve been waiting for. It will break your heart and it will make you laugh and you will pump your fist when Laura Jane Grace screams at a pharmacist in Florida loud enough to silence everyone who ever had the audacity to say “you’re not a real punk.” Against Me!, Grace’s band, has a long, storied history, but are entirely worth listening to, particularly their two most recent albums: Transgender Dysphoria Blues and Shape Shift With Me, both of which are about as far from corporate as you can get. Laura Jane Grace remains an excellent human being to follow.
One pill makes you larger. And one pill makes you small. And the ones that mother gives you don’t do anything at all. — Grace Slick.
Except in this case, the mother is author Ayelet Waldman, and she is giving herself not a pill but two drops of LSD, under the tongue. And while she’s not 10 feet tall or seeing white rabbits, she does get to be happier, as she writes in A Really Good Day: How Microdosing Made a Mega Difference in My Mood, My Marriage and My Life.
Hallucinogenic drug use conjures up images of swirly colors and dancing at Grateful Dead concerts, whereas Waldman describes herself as a straight-laced lawyer, author, wife and mom of four, who rarely drinks and has never been a recreational drug user. Recreational is the key word, though, because Waldman’s suffered from a mood disorder and insomnia throughout her life. Add in a painful middle-aged frozen shoulder, and she’s been prescribed and taken myriad pharmaceuticals from SSRIs to opioids, while pursuing calm promised by anything from meditation classes to mindfulness apps. In her 50’s, Waldman became increasingly desperate for a solution, feeling that her inability to control her emotions and behavior might irreparably damage her family and, most disturbing to her, alienate her beloved husband, author Michael Chabon. When Waldman came across James Fadiman’s book The Psychedelic Explorer’s Guide: Safe, Therapeutic and Sacred Journeys, which espouses the therapeutic use of hallucinogenic drugs taken in order to induce a more relaxed frame of mind, she was ready to try it.
For 30 days, Waldman journaled her experience as she followed Fadiman’s microdosing protocol, taking a miniscule amount of liquid LSD once every three days. Her dose was far too small to trigger a groovy trip, but she did find it stimulated creativity and enhanced her composure — in short, giving her many really good days, albeit with occasional side effects. She also explores the consequences of the “war on drugs," which she argues shut down promising research on medical use of psychedelic drugs, illogically demonizes many less harmful substances while pushing dangerous and addictive medications and continues to influence a judiciary which proffers draconian punishments meted out disproportionately to people of color. Waldman is frank that her microdosing would have continued beyond a month if she’d had a reliable source where she could purchase it, but her fear of criminal prosecution stopped her from pursuing one. Thought-provoking and rather funny thanks to Waldman’s snarky asides, A Really Good Day is a fascinating look at an unconventional therapy.
Maybe you’re trying to eat healthier in 2017. Maybe you just love delicious food. If so, check out The Superfun Times Vegan Holiday Cookbook: Entertaining for Absolutely Every Occasion by Isa Chandra Moskowitz.
This is Moskowitz’s 10th cookbook, and each chapter is devoted to one of 17 different holidays. On New Year’s, eat your black eyed peas and cabbage for good luck. On Christmas, you will find the classic chocolate chip cookies to leave out for Santa. There are no set menus, and each chapter contains one or two dozen recipes that fit the holiday theme so you can mix and match whatever suits your taste.
When faced with so many tasty possibilities, you may find yourself celebrating holidays you’ve never considered before. Now that you have four different recipes for latkes, why not spin a dreidel and learn a little something about Hanukkah? And who cares if you’re not Irish on St. Patrick’s Day if you’re serving corned beet and cabbage and shamrockin’ shakes?
Moskowitz also offers tips on hosting, menu planning and table setting. Of course, this cookbook doesn’t have to only be pulled out on holidays. But if you’re looking for food that is simpler and doesn’t have to be special-occasion-worthy, check out Isa Does It: Amazingly Easy, Wildly Delicious Vegan Recipes for Every Day of the Week for meals that can be on the table in about 30 minutes.
You don’t have to be a fan of The Young and the Restless to appreciate this honest memoir from one of that show’s biggest stars, Eric Braeden. In I’ll Be Damned: How My Young and Restless Life Led Me to America’s #1 Daytime Drama, Braeden shares his life story, including his almost four decades on the number one daytime television show as the charismatic Victor Newman.
Braeden was born in 1941 in a dark, airless hospital basement in Kiel, Germany. Allied bombs sounded in the air and the ground shook with repeated explosions. Days after his birth, the hospital was destroyed in yet another Allied attack. But Braeden’s childhood was a happy and privileged one. His parents were loving, he had brothers to play with and developed a love for sports, especially track and field. His father’s sudden death when he was 12 changed his life forever. The family was forced to sell their beautiful home and possessions and move into a house with no central heating, no hot running water and no showers or toilets that worked.
While struggling through these hard times, his family never gave up, and Eric continued his education and his track and field prowess. He jumped at the opportunity to go to America when he received a partial track and field scholarship to Montana State University (now University of Montana). While there, he and his friends participated in the filming of a documentary film, which led him to Los Angeles and his destiny as a television star. This rags-to-riches immigrant story is an uplifting tale that takes us from Nazi Germany to modern Hollywood. It is the story of one man shaped by war and deprivation who dedicated his life to his art, his family and humanitarian work.
With his fantastic capacity for storytelling, Neil Gaiman brings us the stories of the Norse gods in his new book Norse Mythology. Mr. Gaiman often draws inspiration from the Norse myths for his other books, and his love and interest in these myths is evident.
The book starts with some of the major “players” of Norse myths: Odin, Thor and Loki. Though these are not the only important gods, you can find them in most if not all of the stories. The beginning of the world and creation is next discussed, and we find ourselves learning how the world, the gods and humans all came about, according to the Norse. Yggdrasil, an ash tree also called the world tree, is very important to the Norse myths and connects the nine worlds. Gaiman then goes on to portray the mischief of Loki, the wisdom of Odin and the strength of Thor in his own retelling of some of his favorite myths. He tells the story of how the gods came into their treasures, and he tells the story of Loki’s children: Hel, who will be the leader of the underworld; Jormungundr, the Midgard Serpent; and Fenrir, the Fenris Wolf. My favorite of the myths in this book is when Thor, Loki and Thialfi journey to the land of the giants, and the giant Utgardaloki challenges each of their strengths. These are just of few of the amazing myths that are retold in this book.
From the story of Odin trading his eye for wisdom to the gods attaining their treasures to the last days of the gods at Ragnarok, Neil Gaiman will captivate you with his retelling of these myths. This quick and enchanting read will leave you with wonderful stories to tell and pass on to anyone interested in the Norse gods.